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March 2006
Status: Real
image I've heard of the Vegetable Lamb, a creature from medieval folklore that was part plant and part animal, being a lamb whose belly was attached to the ground by a thick stem. (It survived by eating the grass around itself.) I've also heard of the Woolly Horse, a creature that P.T. Barnum claimed had been found by explorer John C. Fremont in the Rockies and which was "part elephant, deer, horse, buffalo, camel, and sheep." (It was actually just a horse that happened to have curly hair, and which Barnum, not Fremont, had "discovered" in a barn in Connecticut.) Now the Woolly Pig can be added to this list of curly-haired curiosities.

The Woolly Pig is a pig that looks like a lamb, thanks to a curly coat of hair. Yes, it is a real creature. Its proper name is the Mangalitzas. A farmer in Shropshire has just introduced these pigs to England, importing them from their home in Hungary. The website of the Pilgerweidli Organic Farm has a good description (and better picture) of these creatures:

image Mangalitzas are an ancient breed of Woolly pigs from the area of Austria-Hungary... At one time their meat products were in demand all over Europe to such an extent it was traded on the Vienna Stock Exchange and a hundred thousand animals a year were sold from Hungary to the West. In Switzerland the pigs were a very important product where they were slowly overtaken in importance by the dominant "English" style animals which are more suited to "intensive" rearing.
Categories: Animals
Posted by Alex on Fri Mar 17, 2006
Comments (10)
Status: Ersatz Irishness
Perfectly timed for St. Patrick's Day, Austin Kelley has an interesting article in Slate.com about the faux Irish pub revolution... i.e. how Irish pubs slapped together with off-the-shelf charm and quaintness have been popping up in cities all over the world. The term I've heard to describe this phenomenon (which Kelley doesn't mention) is To Irishise, meaning to transform a bar, with the help of interior design specialists, into a fake Irish pub. Kelley traces the roots of this phenomenon back to 1991, when Dublin-based IPCo started to aggressively export the "Irish Pub Concept" around the world. Nowadays would-be Irish pub owners can choose from a variety of pre-packaged styles: the "Country Cottage," the "Gaelic," the "Traditional Pub Shop," or the "Brewery":

IPCo will assemble your chosen pub in Ireland. Then they'll bring the whole thing to your space and set it up. All you have to do is some basic prep, and voilà! Ireland arrives in Dubai. (IPCo has built several pubs and a mock village there.)

The irony here, as Kelley points out, is that Ireland is exporting a kind of quaintness that never quite existed in Ireland itself... but these very same pre-packaged Irish pubs are now being built in Ireland itself, alongside (and often crowding out) the real, authentic Irish pubs. The fake replaces the real.

But I have to admit that I'm guilty of frequenting some fake Irish pubs here in San Diego. After all, the decor may be fake, but the Guinness and boxty and corned beef still taste pretty good.

Related Posts:
Dec. 7, 2003: Plastic Turkeys and Ploughman Lunches
Categories: Food, Places
Posted by Alex on Fri Mar 17, 2006
Comments (14)
Status: Medical study
New research by Dr. Dieter Zapf of Frankfurt University suggests that workers who constantly have to pretend to be friendly to customers suffer from higher rates of depression and illness. The Advertiser reports:

Flight attendants, sales personnel and call centre operators are most at risk, say psychologists at Frankfurt University. People in these jobs are more likely to suffer from depression, according to the study released yesterday ahead of publication in consumer magazine Good Advice. "Every time a person is forced to repress his true feelings, there are negative consequences for his health," said Professor Dieter Zapf, a researcher into human emotions.

I'm a little surprised that it was a German professor who did this study, because it's my subjective impression that fake happy workers seem to be more of an American phenomenon than a European one. American waiters, for instance, always want to act as if they're your new best friend, whereas European waiters tend to be a little more formal in how they interact with diners. Though maybe this is changing.
Categories: Health/Medicine, Psychology
Posted by Alex on Fri Mar 17, 2006
Comments (23)
Status: Hoax
image This is in pretty bad taste, but kind of funny nevertheless, in a twisted kind of way. A guy in Bali named Eddie Hutauruk claims to be offering guided tours that allow you to visit Schapelle Corby in her jail cell. (For those who don't recognize who Schapelle Corby is, she's the Australian woman who is currently serving a 20-year sentence for supposedly trying to import 4.1 kg of cannabis into Bali. The cannabis was found in her luggage. A lot of people think she's innocent, and that the cannabis was put in her luggage by baggage handlers at the airport who were part of a drug-smuggling ring.) The Schapelle Corby tours offer a variety of options. The photo tour gives you just enough time to pose for a photo with her, or you can opt for the more expensive All Day Tour:

This tour allows you to observe Schapelle's entire day, starting from her wake up call at 700 am. Optional extra: For just $10AUD or more you can personally ring the wake up alarm to start Schapelle's day. Observation chairs are provided, as well as food and drinks throughout the day. We respect Schapelle's privacy – so the day finishes at 6.30pm to allow Schapelle to return to her bedroom.

I'm pretty certain that the Indonesian authorities aren't going to allow a private tour company to shuttle people in and out of one of their prisons all day. Which is why I'm labelling this a hoax. Eddie's efforts to get everyone to click on his google ads also don't add to his credibility. And the pictures of people posing with Corby are obviously photoshopped. (Thanks to Emily de Saint Jores for the link.)
Categories: Law/Police/Crime, Websites
Posted by Alex on Fri Mar 17, 2006
Comments (25)
Status: prank
image Here's a prank that definitely rates as one of the more inventive (and cruel) student pranks of recent years. The set-up occurred a week before a NCAA game pitting UC Berkeley against the University of Southern California. USC's starting guard, Gabe Pruitt (pictured), met a UCLA coed named Victoria online. They traded messages via AOL Instant Messenger. She sent him her picture. He sent her his. They arranged to meet after the game on March 4.

The sinker occurred during the March 4th game. When Pruitt appeared on the court, UC fans started to chant "VIC-TOR-IA, VIC-TOR-IA." Their chants continued throughout the game, escalating to include the recitation of Pruitt's phone number. Transcripts of Pruitt's IM chats with "Victoria" were also circulated throughout the crowd (including classic lines such as "You look like you have a very fit body... Now I want to c u so bad"). Pruitt was visibly shocked, missed a bunch of free throws, and ended up 3-for-13 from the field.

It turned out that "Victoria" didn't exist. She was the fictional creation of a couple of UC fans. Pruitt had been punk'd. Understandably, some USC fans aren't too happy about the prank. (So are they plotting revenge?) (via Deadspin and Schneier on Security)

By coincidence, a similar prank was in the news last week (though it was far creepier and more disturbing in its implications). Five boys created an online profile of a fictitious 15-year-old girl they called "Jessica." To their surprise, a 48-year-old guy contacted "Jessica" and started to chat her up. The five boys played along, and eventually lured the guy into meeting Jessica in real life. But when the guy showed up for the meeting, it was the police, not Jessica, who were waiting for him.

Both these incidents go to show that you never really know who you're talking to on the internet. Or as Reality Rule 6.3 from Hippo Eats Dwarf states: "On the internet, nobody knows you're a dog." (It makes more sense if you see the cartoon it refers to.)

Related Posts:
Jan. 6, 2004: Vixen Love
Sep. 6, 2005: Skype Prank
Categories: Identity/Imposters, Pranks, Sports
Posted by Alex on Fri Mar 17, 2006
Comments (10)
Status: Not Hoaxes
A few days ago the Financial Times ran a brief list of major technological breakthroughs that were either ignored or ridiculed. This raises an interesting issue: the danger of over-skepticism, or dismissing startling new discoveries as hoaxes simply because one refuses to believe that anything new or out-of-the-ordinary can be real. I can't find a link to the FT story, but here's a summary of their list:

The Wright Brothers' discovery of flight: "When two American bicycle repairmen claimed to have built the world's firstaircraft in 1903, they were dismissed as cranks. Newspapers refused to send reporters or photographers to witness any of the flights. More than two years later, Scientific American magazine was still insisting that the story was a hoax. By that time, the Wright brothers had completed a half-hour flight covering 24 miles."

Steam Turbine Propulsion: "The claim of Irish engineer Charles Parsons to have developed a radically new form of marine propulsion was scorned by the Admiralty, until his steam turbine vessel made an unauthorised appearance at the 1897 Spithead naval review going at 37 knots - faster than any other vessel in the fleet."

Atoms as a source of energy: "The idea that atoms could be a source of energy millions of times more potent than coal or oil was dismissed by the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Ernest Rutherford as "moonshine"."

Amorphous semiconductor materials: "During the 1950s, self-taught American physicist Stanford Ovshinsky found a way of creating materials lacking a regular crystal structure - an achievement dismissed as impossible by scientists. They are now standard components in devices ranging from flat-panel displays to solar cells."

Lasers: "While developing the technology behind the laser, American physicist Charles Townes was approached by two Nobel-Prize-winning colleagues who told him he was wasting his time and threatening their funding. Even after the first laser was built in 1960, it was described as "a solution looking for a problem"."

The Scanning Tunnelling Microscope: "The Scanning Tunnelling Microscope (STM), invented by scientists at IBM in Zurich in the early 1980s, now plays a key role in fields ranging from biology to nanotechnology. But many scientists remained deeply suspicious of the claims made for the STM until its inventors won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1986."

To this list I can add:

Photography: Marcus Aurelius Root, a 19th century American photographer, recorded that: "In 1839, and on the very day of the publication of Daguerre's discovery in the Philadelphia daily papers, Dr. Bird, then chemical professor in one of our medical schools, was asked, at a gathering of several scientific men, what he thought of this new method of copying objects with the sunbeam? The Doctor, in a lengthened reply, pronounced the whole report a fabrication--a new edition of the famed "moon-hoax"--such a performance being, in his view, an intrinsic improbability."

The Duckbilled Platypus. When George Shaw, keeper of the Department of Natural History at the British Museum, examined a specimen of a duckbilled platypus sent to him from Australia, he wrote that, "it is impossible not to entertain some doubts as to the genuine nature of the animal, and to surmise that there might have been practised some arts of deception in its structure."

Of course, all these real discoveries that were regarded as hoaxes provide an endless source of encouragement to all the crackpots who are convinced that their devices for extracting infinite energy from magnets, or using water as a fuel, are similarly misunderstood.
Categories: Technology
Posted by Alex on Thu Mar 16, 2006
Comments (18)
Status: Hoax
An announcement of actor Will Ferrell's death in a paragliding accident was briefly posted on the wire service iNewswire today, before the service caught wind of it, realized Will Ferrell wasn't dead, and yanked it. The release read, in part:

Los Angeles -- Actor Will Ferrell accidentally died in a freak para-gliding accident yesterday in Torey Pines, Southern California. The accident apparently happened somewhere near the famed paragliding site after a freak wind gush basically blew Ferrell and his companion towards a wooded area where they lost control before crashing into dense foilage. (Click here to see the whole obituary.)

My wife works very close to Torrey Pines, so I'm sure I would have heard from her if something like this had happened. E-online has some more details about the hoax, including that Ferrell's publicist confirmed the actor was still alive and filming a movie in Montreal, and that Ferrell has actually never paraglided anywhere, at any time in his life.

As for who is responsible for the hoax: "iNewswire tried, but failed to find the source of the bogus Ferrell story. The trickster, a non-paying customer, used a proxy server--the ISP address can't be traced, Borgos explained. All that's known about the anonymous user is that he or she tried, but failed to post about 10-15 other press releases on the site Tuesday, he said, including one that clarified that 'Will Ferrell is not really dead.'"

I've already added this hoax to my growing list of fake celebrity obituaries. (Thanks to Brad Wulff for forwarding me the email.)
Categories: Celebrities, Death
Posted by Alex on Wed Mar 15, 2006
Comments (10)
Status: Counterfeit currency
Reuters is reporting that U.S. Customs agents have apprehended a man who had 250 $1 billion bills stashed away in his apartment. The bills showed President Cleveland, and had an issue date of 1934. Figuring out that they were counterfeit was easy, since there is no such thing as a $1 billion bill. You have to wonder how he was planning to exchange them for real cash, since anyone stupid enough to accept them wouldn't have $1 billion in the first place. In fact, is it even a crime to possess obviously fake money? Don't a lot of places sell fake $1 million bills?

image In other strange currency news, fake "porn Euros" are apparently being mistaken for real money over in Europe: "The notes, in 300, 600 and 1,000 euro denominations have a ring of 12 hearts instead of the usual EU stars and feature hunky men and big-breasted nude women. Instead of the word 'Euro' being printed in the corner these notes have 'Eros' - the Greek god of love. But despite these differences - and the fact that the only large euro notes currently in circulation are 100s, 200s and 500s - police say they are being passed off as the real thing. Cologne newsagent Bernd Friedhelm, 33, accepted one of the fake 600 euro notes from an unknown customer who bought two cartons of cigarettes and walked off with 534 euros in change. Friedhelm said: 'He told me it was a new type of note and I just figured I hadn't seen one before.'" (Oh, and the full-size version of the thumbnail might not be safe for work.)

In Hippo Eats Dwarf I write about a similar case of porn Euros that circulated in 2002. I noted that: "German authorities discovered shoppers were using fake 300- and 1000-euro notes adorned with pictures of buxom naked women. The European central bank had given the firm Planet-Present permission to distribute the bills as a publicity stunt, never realizing people might think the sexy money was real." The 2002 case sounds awfully similar to the 2006 case. So similar, in fact, that the story kind of sounds like an urban legend.
Categories: Business/Finance
Posted by Alex on Wed Mar 15, 2006
Comments (9)
Status: Fake
I've come across two different videos on Youtube that show night scenes of roadblocks in Singapore. I don't have that much information about either video, but stylistically and thematically they're very similar (and very low quality). People are clowning around at a roadblock in the middle of the night, when suddenly (at the end of each video) they see a ghostly white figure. Screaming ensues. (Warning, in case you're watching these at work: The one on the right contains some cursing.)
image image

The caption on the first video (on the left) identifies the ghost as the "pontianak". Wikipedia defines the pontianak as: a type of vampire in Malay folklore. The pontianak is usually a woman who died during childbirth and becomes undead, seeking revenge and terrorizing villages. She often appears as a beautiful woman, usually accompanied by the strong scent of frangipani. Men who are not wary will be killed when she morphs into a hideous vampire, she will also eat babies and harm pregnant women.

Wikipedia also links to a paper (which downloads as a word document) by Timothy White of the Dept. of Literature at the National University of Singapore that puts these kinds of movies in context. White notes that during the 1950s and 60s Singapore had a thriving film industry that churned out many horror films featuring the pontianak. However, these films "are all, by today’s standards, woefully unrealistic, especially in terms of the way they look." Evidently these short Singaporean ghost videos popping up on the internet must be inspired (even if unknowingly so) by that country's tradition of cheap horror flicks. The obvious fakeness of them is just part of the cinematic tradition.

Related posts:
Sep. 19, 2003: Indian Ghost Hoax
Sep. 21, 2003: Indian Ghost Hoax, Part II
Categories: Paranormal, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Tue Mar 14, 2006
Comments (9)
Status: Hoax
15-year old Tom Vandetta found a neat trick described on the internet: how to upload a fake press release to a free wire service, and get Google News to pick it up and disseminate it, thereby making it look like real news. Of course, he couldn't resist trying this trick out, so he decided to write a release from Google itself announcing that they were hiring him:

(I-Newswire) - 15 year old student, Tom Vendetta has been hired by search engine giant Google Inc. The student will receive a lowered salary, which will be placed into a bank account for future education, said Google CEO Larry Page. When asked what role Vendetta will play at the Tech Giant's offices, Page said he wouldnt have a role at the Main Offices. Instead he would work from his home in the New Jersey suburbs. Vendetta will be incharge of working with recent security flaw's in Google's beta e-mail service, "Gmail". Google said they first found out about him when they discovered the student's blog, at http://tomvendetta.be. The media giant said they looked forward to working with Vendetta's expertise in JavaScript and AJAX.

Soon word of Google's hiring of a 15-year-old kid was posted on Digg.com, and the attention of the internet (or at least a small part of it) turned on Tom Vandetta. As the hoax spread, Tom wrote in his blog: "My gmail account now has 130 unread email messages, as opposed to the 5 i normally get daily. My myspace has tons of friends requests, as opposed to the 3 i get monthly. This is all going out of control and I am regretting every bit of it."

Fake press releases have long been a favorite tool of hoaxers. One of the first big hoaxes on the internet, back in 1994, was the Microsoft Buys the Catholic Church press release that circulated via email. And plenty of people have, like Tom Vendetta, used the free wire services to upload fake releases. (For instance, there was that press release about Tom Cruise lecturing on the modern science of mental health that I posted about a few months ago.) All of which underlines the importance of Reality Rule 6.1 (from Hippo Eats Dwarf): Just because you read it on the internet doesn't mean it's true.
Categories: Journalism
Posted by Alex on Tue Mar 14, 2006
Comments (18)
Status: Real
My wife was watching the Home & Garden channel this afternoon (she's addicted to it), when a show came on called "Pet Pads" that featured Jim and Linda Sautner of Alberta, Canada, who keep a 1650lb pet buffalo named Bailey in their home. Remembering that I had recently posted about a woman with a pet moose, she called me in to see the show. It was pretty interesting. The buffalo had been trained to wipe its feet on a mat, as well as to turn on the light (the light was touch sensitive, so the buffalo only had to touch it with its snout). Of course, the buffalo didn't live in their home 24 hours a day. There was a pen for it out in the barn. I figure that since I saw the pet buffalo on TV, it must be a true story. (Kidding, but there are plenty of articles online about the Sautners and their oversized pet, so I'm sure it's real.)

Most buffalo can be quite aggressive, but Bailey was raised by the Sautners since he was a calf and has always been very tame. Also, the Sautners operate a buffalo ranch, so they know how to handle the creatures. I don't think keeping a pet buffalo would be a good idea for most people.

image   image   image
Categories: Animals
Posted by Alex on Mon Mar 13, 2006
Comments (25)
Status: News article
I'm hesitant to post this, remembering that the last time I posted about fake doctor's notes I ended up with hundreds of comments from people asking me to provide them with fake notes. But here goes anyway. The Shanghai Daily has an interesting short article about the economics of the fake-sick-note industry in China. Apparently sellers of fake doctor's notes can be found outside of many Shanghai hospitals:

The price depends on the type of disease and duration of the sick leave. A note allowing two to three days of rest normally costs 20 (US$2.47) to 30 yuan. The price goes up if the person requires longer sick leave. Ailments on two-day fake notes are always fever and diarrhea. Fractures can be 40 to 50 days, said the reader, who bought a two-day note for 20 yuan.

I imagine the guys selling these notes must be like scalpers, lurking on the street corner, coming up to strangers ("Hey, buddy. Wanna buy a sick note?") I've never seen the equivalent in America. But then, I've never gone shopping for a fake sick note.
Categories: Business/Finance, Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Mon Mar 13, 2006
Comments (53)
Status: Unusual false body part
image I seem to have been posting a lot about goldfish, with recent posts having included items about blind goldfish, trained goldfish, forgetful goldfish, and swallowed goldfish. So when I came across this story about goldfish used as fake breasts, I knew I had to post it:

FISH have feelings, too, according to the folks at PETA, who are taking aim at writer Josh Kilmer-Purcell. The author, whose best-selling memoir, "I Am Not Myself These Days," chronicles his double life as an ad exec-cum-drag performer, was put on notice last week by the animal-rights group's "Fish Empathy Project" for alleged cruelty to goldfish. As his whip-cracking alter-ego, Aquadisiac, Kilmer-Purcell donned a pair of clear plastic breasts filled with live goldfish. Says PETA: "It would be, for you, like living in a covered bathtub that's constantly moving, tossing you around as you defecate in it. It's filthy, painful and terrifying for these animals."

When PETA puts it that way, it kind of reminds me of how I felt once back in college when I had a particularly bad hangover (minus the defecating part). But seriously, it does seem unnecessary for Kilmer-Purcell to use real goldfish in his fake breasts. He could substitute plastic fish for the real ones, and most people would probably never know the difference. (Here's an article about Kilmer-Purcell in the Fairfield County Weekly, where I found the picture of him as Aquadisiac.)
Categories: Animals, Body Manipulation
Posted by Alex on Sun Mar 12, 2006
Comments (6)
Status: Highly suspect
According to an article in NewKerala.com, the Veena Vadini school in Singrauli, India teaches its students to write with both hands, at the same time. And that's not all:

All these students are able to write simultaneously with both their hands. Trained from the early days at their school, these 72 young students are today at comfort with this rare art. They are also fluent in a number of languages.
Virangat Sharma, the principal of the school said that all his students are proficient in this art, which was started as an experiment. “The children are taught six languages Hindi, Urdu, English, Roman, Sanskrit and Arabic,” says Sharma. “I read somewhere that India's first President Dr. Rajendra Prasad used to write in two languages I also preferred to experiment developing such a skill among my students. All the children here can do this and also know the world's capital cities and their tables up to hundred. They can write on two different subjects and in two different languages at the same time,” says Sharma. Not just that these children can write with both their hands but they can also write in two different languages on two different subjects at the same time, tells Sharma.


Wow. And I thought my ability to write backwards in ancient Greek while doing a one-arm handstand and juggling two balls with my feet was impressive. Needless to say, I'm highly suspicious of the principal's claims. (Assuming that he exists and wasn't misquoted by a reporter.) The same story is also reported by ananova, adding to its credibility (note: sarcasm). I did a search for "Veena Vadini School" to see if they have a website, but only found links to this article about their instruction in ambidexterity. (Thanks to Kathy for sending me the clipping.)

Update:
SicTim (posting in the comments) remembered that Ripleys had once featured some cases of amazing ambidexterity. Checking the Best of Ripleys volume on my bookshelf, I found these examples. On the left, Lena Deeter of Conway, Arkansas, who "could write with both hands simultaneously — backwards, forwards, upside-down, even upside-down backwards! She could write in a different direction with each hand simultanously." (She appeared in a Ripleys cartoon on April 1, 1942... I assume she wasn't an April Fool's joke.) On the right is "a 1936 Dallas Odditorium performer [who] could draw three different cartoons simultaneously — with both hands and a foot!"

These cases indicate that it might be possible for someone to write in two different languages at the same time, but I'm still doubtful that an entire school could be trained to do it.

image image
Categories: Body Manipulation
Posted by Alex on Sun Mar 12, 2006
Comments (24)
Status: Apparently a hoax
Here's news of a hoax from China. (There seems to be more of them coming from there lately.) Massage Milk (great name!) is one of the most popular blogs in China. It was featured in a Newsweek article last month about Chinese bloggers. But a few days ago its site went blank, and the assumption was that it had been forced offline by the Chinese government. At least, this is what news organizations such as the BBC assumed. Turns out everyone was wrong. The disappearing-blog-act was just a hoax. Wang Xiaofeng, the author of Massage Milk, faxed a statement to the Interfax news agency explaining that:

I just wanted to make fun of Western journalists? [content] doesn't need to be serious on the Internet. I don't like it that Western media take a distorted view of China, though China does have problems. I thought that if I closed my blog, it would stir their imagination and then they would begin blah blah. It really is as expected. So let's they have an April Fool's day in advance."

The question is: Is Wang Xiaofeng now telling the truth? Was his site's closure really an early April Fool's Day prank, or did the Chinese government actually have a hand in what happened? Some people think the latter is the case. If it was a prank, it does seem kind of pointless (after all, why shouldn't people have believed the Chinese state would have done something like that? It's not like China is known for its open internet policy), which lends credence to the government-censorship theory.

Update: The Wall Street Journal has posted an article about the Massage Milk hoax. (And I should note that a second Chinese blog, Milk Pig, also participated in the self-shutdown hoax.) The WSJ notes that: "Beijing-based journalist Wang Xiaofeng of Massage Milk says he shut his blog down to make a point about freedom of speech -- just one directed at the West instead of at Beijing. He calls the Western press "irresponsible" and says that the hoax was designed "to give foreign media a lesson that Chinese affairs are not always the way you think." Quite frankly, I don't get it. Is shutting his own blog down supposed to prove to everyone in the West that China actually allows more freedom of speech than journalists over here supposed?
Categories: Politics, Websites
Posted by Alex on Fri Mar 10, 2006
Comments (15)
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